DC Comics is no stranger to reboots. The Golden Age of Comics began in the 1930s and lasted until roughly 1951. The Silver Age began with a completely new take on the Flash in 1956 and Superman was put on a new direction two years later with most of his past stories now considered to be non-existent or the chronicles of a Superman who lived in a parallel universe. After the major story “Crisis on Infinite Earths,” Superman and much of the DC Universe were given an overhaul and a new history/continuity starting in 1986. A few more revisions happened along the way with DC almost a year into another reboot known as the New 52.
While the series “Superman” depicts the Man of Steel’s modern day adventures, the rebooted series “Action Comics” opened with a story arc taking place in the hero’s early days. Just as the original “Action Comics” #1 in 1938 first introduced readers to the strange visitor from Krypton, the new series of the same name would establish where this re-imagined Man of Tomorrow came from and how he became the first public superhero of Earth.
This story arc, written by Grant Morrison and drawn by a variety of artists, is chock full of references and revisions, acknowledging many stories and creators that came before even while it presents something new. Did you catch all the Easter eggs and jokes? If not, don’t worry! CBR has you covered with the first of a series of annotations of “Action Comics.”
The standard cover by Rags Morales displays Superman’s speed, his leaping ability and his bulletproof skin, all major qualities identified with the character. The fact that police are shooting at him immediately tells us that this story is taking him back to his roots and early stories where he was seen primarily as a vigilante. The variant cover is one of Morales’ early attempts at drawing the new T-shirt and jeans proto-uniform for Superman. This cover was before Morales fully understood that they would be showing a younger Superman, which is why his frame is larger and bulkier than what is seen in the comic.
The alternative cover by Jim Lee has Superman in his modern day uniform facing several robots that are updated versions of mechanical men the hero fought in the famous Fleisher Studios cartoon serials of the 1940s.
Panel 1 – Glen Glenmorgan is a new character. It is important to note that he loosens his tie and tells a dwarf that they have a deal. This will come up again in different ways at a myriad of times.
Panel 1 – The Metropolis PD arrive with Detective Blake in charge. The character’s only previous appearance in Superman continuity was in a two-page prose story published in “Superman” vol. 1 #1. In that story, the character was called Detective Sergeant Blake and was determined to capture Superman, seeing him as a violent vigilante, before he was later convinced that the Man of Steel was a force for good.
Glenmorgan is in is the headquarters of Galaxy Broadcasting, hence the cool G logo with a star flying around it. Although Glenmorgan is a new character, Galaxy Broadcasting has existed in Superman comics for decades. During the 1970s and early 1980s, it bought the Daily Planet as well. This logo is new and bears a startling resemblance to the old DC Comics logo that had a star orbiting it.
Panel 2 – Detective Blake calls for a cop named Casey. Sergeant Casey was a cop who first appeared in “Superman” vol. 1 #6 (1940) and initially attempted the Man of Tomorrow’s arrest before later deciding the guy was a hero. He made several appearances throughout the 1940s and then vanished entirely until this issue.
Panel 5 – Before “Action Comics” #1 came out, some publicity from DC Entertainment implied that Superman would be operating at his original 1938 power level for the New 52 launch of “Action Comics.” However, while his strength/resiliency and speed are indeed closer to that level, he also displays abilities that didn’t appear until later years. The dwarf remarks on Clark’s heat-vision and he later displays heightened senses. He definitely can’t fly yet, though. Traditionally, different versions of Superman’s origin usually depict flight as the final ability he develops.
Panel 2 – Once no one is looking, the dwarf reveals he’s amused by these events. He’s also holding Glenmorgan’s tie. A talisman to help ensure Glenmorgan keeps his side of the bargain?
Panel 3 – Let’s just reflect on how hilarious it is that Superman has apparently thrown someone into a piano. Very akin to Warner Bros. classic Looney Tunes.
Next to the story title, there’s a tiny image of Superman bursting through chains. This is a modernization of the classic Golden Age Superman logo. In fact, the very first time that image of Superman bursting through chains appeared was in the very last panel of his first published story in “Action Comics” vol. 1 issue #1 in 1938!
Glenmorgan shouts “Somebody! Save me!” It may be a coincidence, but the theme song for the TV show “Smallville” (which focused on Clark’s younger years) was “Save Me” by Remy Zero. The refrain begins with the lyrics “Somebody save me!”
Panel 4 – As the cops run outside, we can see a sign identifying the Reeve Building. This is a reference to Christopher Reeve, who first played Superman in a feature film and whose performance is considered by many to be the iconic representation of the character.
Panel 1 – As Superman races through Metropolis, he passes by a shop called Rags N Son. A fun reference to artist Rags Morales.
Note also that Superman passes through the corner of Kimberly Ave. and Glenville Rd. Superman creator Jerry Siegel grew up on 10622 Kimberly Ave in in the Glenville neighborhood of Cleveland, Ohio (the same hometown of co-creator Joe Shuster).
Panel 1 – The military are looking over a map of Metropolis. Starting in the 1980s, Metropolis was depicted in a style similar to New York City with the main city located on an island called New Troy.
You’ll notice that a military officer named Corben is seated as a scientist looks over his shoulder. This is John Corben and Dr. John Henry Irons.
In previous continuities, Corben became the villain Metallo, a cyborg powered by a Kryponite “heart.” Stay tuned for more on Corben in “Action Comics” #2.
John Henry Irons was initially introduced in the 1990s as a man inspired by Superman’s death to become the hero called Steel. His story was complicated — Irons was a military scientist who then hid under a fake name before becoming a superhero and later went public with his real identity. In the new continuity, his story and evolution are more straightforward.
General Sam Lane is Lois’s father. Starting in 2009, Sam Lane was depicted as an antagonist to Superman. Here, he remarks that the Last Son of Krypton is more powerful now than when he first appeared “six months ago.” In the New 52 timeline, the Justice League first formed roughly “five years ago” and Grant Morrison said that this opening issue takes place “five and a half years ago.” So in the new continuity, Superman debuted a year before the League formed and DC’s age of superheroes truly began.
Panel 2 – Lex Luthor was originally introduced as a fairly fit, red-haired mad scientist. Very quickly, he became bald (a fill-in artist had confused him with the bald villain Ultra-Humanite) and soon was depicted as slightly overweight. He also began a recurring theme of pretending to be a legitimate businessman. In the 1960s and ’70s, he became a physically fit mad scientist again, often wearing a prison uniform or a purple jumpsuit. In the early 1980s, he got a high-tech “warsuit” that made him powerful enough to battle Superman directly.
In the 1986 Post-Crisis reboot, Luthor became a corrupt businessman who “owned” most of Metropolis and hired brilliant scientists rather than create tech himself. He became very fit and athletic again in the 1990s and around the same time, writers portrayed him as a scientist again, saying he made his initial fortune due to brilliant technology and patents.
Here, he is overweight again because Morrison wanted him to become physically fit only later on, as an envious response to Superman’s prowess.
Luthor is speaking to Sam Lane, Lois Lane’s father. The idea that Lois was an army brat originated in the 1980s.
Luthor remarks that it was Lois who named Clark “Superman.” This idea was first brought forth in “Superman: The Movie” and was later adopted by comics in the 1980s and cartoons, such as in “Superman: The Animated Series,” in the 1990s.
Panel 4 – Luthor mentions Galileo Square. This didn’t exist in previous continuities. It implies that Metropolis has a history of recognizing/embracing science. Likewise, Luthor’s earlier remarks that there is a section of New Troy called New Moravia implies an interesting European heritage for some of the city, as Moravia was an Eastern European country that later became part of the Czech Republic.
Panel 4 – These special high-tech tanks are marked LX-1, LX-2 and so on — obviously Lex’s handiwork and further proof of his ego by having his signature stamped on them.
Panel 4 – It may be a coincidence, but a guy in the crowd that moves to defend Superman is wearing a cap with the initials “C.K,” which happen to be Clark Kent’s initials.
Metropolis has zeppelins flying through it. This is an old-fashioned idea of what futuristic cities would be, underlining Metropolis’ description as the “City of Tomorrow.” It could also be another sign of Luthor’s power and influence in the city. The tanks and robocopters are his creations; perhaps the zeppelins are as well.
Clark makes his first identity change in the new universe. For many decades, Superman disguised his human/civilian identity by slouching, using different body language, wearing clothes that were a little too big for him, donning thick glasses that slightly altered the shape of his face and the size/color of his eyes, and using his superhuman muscle control to alter his voice. In a few issues (which were quickly ignored by later writers), Superman’s muscle control allowed him to actually shrink down his body as Clark and change his face slightly.
For decades, the difference in hair was that Clark would slick his hair back whereas Superman’s hair was looser and often sported an S-curl. In the live action films starring Christopher Reeve, the actor also parted his hair on opposite sides between his two identities. In the TV series “Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman,” actor Dean Cain pulled a reverse on the comic idea, slicking back Superman’s hair while leaving Clark’s more casual.
In the 2005 series “All-Star Superman” by Grant Morrison, artist Frank Quitely altered the disguise a bit by letting Clark’s hair fall forward over his forehead, helping to hide his face. The next year, the movie “Superman Returns” used the same idea and many comic book artists followed suit. Here, Grant Morrison asked Rags Morales to use a similar idea, but also make Clark’s hair unkempt, saying he should resemble Harry Potter at first glance. This is now the standard look for Clark in the New 52 continuity.
Panel 1 – Clark may be tough to hurt, but those tanks definitely bruised him. That, and the fact that he doesn’t heal within minutes, are signs that he is not as powerful as his pre-New 52 incarnation.
Panel 2 – Clark mentions Intergang. For decades, Intergang has been a constant source of trouble in Metropolis (and occasionally other cities); a coalition of mob families and gangs who eventually are outfitted with alien technology.
From the remarks made by Clark and his landlady, it’s clear that Metropolis is very corrupt when Superman first debuts. Though the city always had its share of criminals before the Man of Steel arrived, the idea that it and its government were generally corrupt was first emphasized in “Superman: Secret Origin” by Geoff Johns and Gary Frank.
Panel 4 – The landlady is named Mrs. Nyxly. The lack of the main vowels in her name implies that she is a being from the 5th dimension, similar to Superman’s long-time enemy Mr. Mxyzptlk. Grant Morrison is known to have a fondness for beings from the 5th dimension and retroactively revealed other DC characters to be inhabitants from that same realm, such as turning the Aquaman enemy Quisp into Qwsp.
However, that does not necessarily mean that this woman is from the 5th dimension. The name Nyxly has appeared in Superman comics before, back in the 1970s. A villain named Ferlin Nyxly used the Faustian-esque “Devil’s Harp” to steal Superman’s powers. Mrs. Nyxly mentions that her nephew reads Clark’s articles and blog. Perhaps her nephew is named Ferlin.
Panel 1 – Clark doesn’t have a TV or even a lamp. From the looks of his apartment, he seems to read by candlelight. In truth, his heightened vision most likely means he doesn’t need any light to read in the dark and the candle is just there for appearance’s sake.
Nyxly remarks that Superman was harsh with a man who was beating his wife. In “Action Comics” vol. 1 #1 in 1938, Superman was punishing just such a man.
Panel 2 – Clark’s apartment is in Hob’s Bay. This is traditionally a poor section of Metropolis, high in crime with the nickname “Suicide Slum.” The superhero Jim Harper, also known as Guardian, lived here. In one version of Lex Luthor’s origin, he grew up in Hob’s Bay alongside Perry White. Nyxly also mentions St. Martin’s, which was indeed an area of Metropolis that was mentioned now and then before the reboot.
Panel 3 – Nxly says three very good-looking people were looking for Clark, two men and a blonde. Based on later issues, this is clearly a reference to Cosmic Boy, Lightning Lad and Saturn Girl, the three founding members of the Legion of Super-Heroes. The trio first visited Clark when he was a young teenager in Smallville, sharing a few adventures with him and letting him wear a Legion flight ring, which enables flight and has some other cool abilities.
Panel 1 – We meet Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen. Jimmy Olsen originally appeared just as a kid named Jimmy in the newspaper officers where Clark worked. The “Adventures of Superman” radio plays introduced a character named Jimmy Olsen. This name was given to Jimmy some time later in the comics.
Lois Lane made her first appearance in the very first Superman story in “Action Comics” vol. 1 #1. She was inspired by Torchy Blane, a fictional, head-strong, beautiful newspaper reporter who starred in films, first played by Glenda Farrell and then by actress Lola Lane (hence the name). The original art design for Lois was based on a model named Joanne Carter, who married Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel.
Panel 2 – Lois is wearing a Keystone City jacket. Perhaps she went to college there. Keystone City, Kansas is the home of the heroes Jay Garrick and Wally West. It’s also the twin city to Central City, where Barry Allen lives.
Traditionally, Jimmy Olsen has been referred to as “Superman’s pal,” but starting in the 1980s, Jimmy became a stronger acquaintance to Clark Kent, despite their differences in age. Here, Morrison has Jimmy firmly cemented as Clark’s friend while not really having any direct contact with Superman. Morrison explained that he believed it made more sense for Jimmy and Clark to be friends, two nerds who operated in the same field.
Panel 3 – In nearly every incarnation of Superman’s early days, Lois considers him a rival. For the first time, Grant Morrison gives a concrete reason for this by having the two work at competing newspapers. While Lois works for the Daily Planet, Clark works for the Daily Star, under editor George Taylor. In fact, the original Superman comics of the Golden Age did have him work for George Taylor at the Daily Star. The newspaper’s name was changed to Daily Planet when Superman became a daily comic strip, since there actually was a publication bearing that name. Over the years, the Daily Planet staffers have occasionally referred to “the Star” as a rival paper that you never saw.
Panel 4 – Lois says to follow her, “For I am the truth and the way.” This mimics the classic Superman phrase “truth and justice,” but she also seems to be paraphrasing the New Testament. Specifically, John 14:6 where Jesus says (although there are alternate translations, depending on the Bible): “I am the way and the truth and the life.” Many comic book and film creators have drawn parallels between Superman and Jesus Christ.
Panel 1 – Clark passes by Wood’s Hardware. Dave Wood wrote many Superman stories in the 1950s and 1960s. He also passes by a stoop that has graffiti with the initials W.E. This graffiti is a reproduction of Will Eisner’s signature. Will Eisner was a groundbreaking comic book artist and storyteller who created the Spirit. His famous connection to Superman is that he rejected Siegel and Shuster’s story, primarily because he found the art to be too crude.
Panel 3 – As Jimmy gets a text, his phone goes “zee zee zee.” In past continuity, Jimmy would sometimes summon Superman’s aid with a hypersonic signal watch. Some comics would depict the watch’s signal as the sound “zee zee zee.”
Panel 4 – The dwarf from Glenmorgan’s office remarks about the deal they made as he sits in a car and watches the mag-lev train zoom away. Evidently, the deal was that the dwarf would bomb the same train tracks that Glenmorgan built below safety standards, covering up his shoddy workmanship and setting him up for insurance gains.
Panel 2 – In many of his superhero stories, Grant Morrison has emphasized the danger and chaotic nature of a comic book world by forcing superheroes to deal with two or more threats at once. So it’s not surprising that as Clark deals with trying to catch a runaway train, he is unaware there is a bomb attached and that Glenmorgan’s former (and obviously disgruntled) enforcer seems intent on taking the train hostage. It also goes along with his statements during interviews that he truly wanted the make the title “Action Comics” as literal as possible.
Panel 1 – Over the decades, Jimmy has been portrayed as an impulsive kid who speaks his mind but isn’t prone to physical confrontation or as a man of action whom people underestimate because they think he’s a nerd. In fact, Jimmy made a major career in the 1950s and ’60s of going on dangerous undercover missions and pursuing adventure for its own sake. Years later, he even had a career as a TV host called “Mr. Action.”
Grant Morrison, a major fan of Superman’s 1950s era, demonstrates this Jimmy definitely faces danger head on, as he directly attacks the gunman along with Lois and a couple other passengers.
Panel 3 – In every issue #1 of the New 52 titles, the “hooded woman” appeared in one panel. This character first appeared in the final issue of “Flashpoint” and was the catalyst that brought about this new universe/continuity for the DC superheroes. Months later, it was revealed that her name is Pandora and she is apparently the inspiration for the myth of the same name.
Panel 1 – Luthor notices something approaching from Neptune’s orbit. His initial question seems a fun twist on the classic Superman phrase “Look! Up in the sky!”
Sam Lane’s right, Luthor obviously learned about the bomb or deduced its existence when he spoke to Glenmorgan, helping him to make sure Superman was weakened by tanks and wrecking balls earlier, softening him up enough to be knocked out cold by the train.
Panel 2 – Luthor has had different motivations for hating Superman over the years. Initially, it was mostly a matter of pride to prove that his intellect made him superior to this hero who called himself “Superman.” In the Silver Age, Luthor’s knew Superman when they were teens in Smallville, Kansas. After successfully creating artificial life, Luthor spilled some chemicals in his lab and caused a fire. Young Kal-El arrived and put it out, but indirectly destroyed the life form and Luthor’s notes on its creation, while the fumes caused the young scientist to lose all his hair. Rather than accept responsibility for his own carelessness, Luthor convinced himself the Kryptonian had been jealous of his genius and deliberately destroyed his work. Naturally, he swore revenge.
In the 1980s, when Luthor was made into an evil businessman, he had no real motivation for hating Superman other than that he was a criminal and the hero interfered with his plans. Writer John Byrne believed it was silly to give Luthor a backstory to explain his villainous ways, that he should be cruel and greedy for its own sake.
Later writers, including Morrison himself, brought back the idea that Luthor took Superman’s abilities and altruistic nature as a challenge and that he justified his envy by saying that, by being such a powerful big brother to Earth, the Man of Steel arrogantly convinced humans they were weaker and stifled their desire to reach for new horizons. In this story, Luthor seems to come to that feeling and justification later, but begins by simply and logically deciding that Superman is a parasitic organism that is contaminating Earth’s natural balance.
Superman has been captured by 8 pm, as Luthor promised. The first scene of this army monitoring room took place at 7:30 pm (or 19:30). So most of this issue took place within half an hour.
This page is proof that, at this early stage in his career, the somewhat beat-up Superman is not “more powerful than a locomotive.” But he will be.
Stay tuned to CBR News for further annotations on Grant Morrison’s opening “Action Comics” story arc!